The Bush Administration seemed to have everything so well coordinated after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. How, many wondered, could they have put the whole shebang together so quickly? We may never know all the details, but recently some minutes of a pre-9/11 Bush inner-cabinet meeting have come our way, from someone inside the Administration.
We’re not at liberty to reveal that mole’s identity, but the job held by this person — whom we’ll call “Shallow Throat” — includes access to important papers and thus the undated transcript below, believed to have been recorded in July or August of 2001, could well be authentic.
P [presumably George W. Bush]: This Jeffords thing is terrible, Karl! Why the hell didn’t you massage the guy? With the Dems in charge of the Senate, we can’t push anything through anymore, and Lott is steaming! Our entire conservative program is on hold!
KH [presumably Karen Hughes]: Karl’s already groveled, Mr. President. Many times since June. We all blew that one. Let’s figure out what to do NOW.
VP [presumably Vice President Dick Cheney]: The Democrats are gloating; they know they have our agenda stymied. We’ve got to do something, something dramatic, to regain the momentum.
KR [presumably Karl Rove]: Dick’s right. It’s got to be something big, something that will change the way things work in Washington. Not just a new piece of legislation but something that will reduce liberal power now and for the next generation.
P: Anything on the horizon, Conny?
CR [presumably Condoleeza Rice]: “Something big.” Those same words have been picked up in known terrorist circles. The word is that Osama bin Laden’s organization is planning “something big,” against America, probably in America. We’ve been watching him closely, but not — .
DR (interrupting) [presumably Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld]: We’ve been unable to find out what he means by “something big,” and a date and time. But clearly he and his boys are excited by what’s about to happen. If he initiates an attack on American soil, your stock as commander-in-chief shoots up a mile.
P: You mean it would be like Pearl Harbor and FDR?
VP: Exactly. But his Something Big has to be countered by our Something Bigger. Look what happened to Clinton. The African embassies were bombed and Clinton flung a few missiles at Sudan and Afghanistan, all for show. Nothing changed. Something’s got to change, Mr. President, if and when you decide to take action.
CR: From the wider perspective, the U.S. could act because the new face of warfare in the 21st Century is terrorism — cyber, biological, chemical, nuclear — threatening all countries. We’d have instant support.
DR: The reason why bin Laden can keep coming up with one attack after another against American interests is that he’s been offered sanctuary by the Afghan regime, the Taliban. If we go after bin Laden, we should go after them as well. Overthrow the Taliban, hunt down bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network.
P: You forget, Don, that we were negotiating with the Taliban just a few months ago, even invited them to Texas. We thought we could convince them to protect the pipelines that our friends want to build through Afghanistan. But those Islams wanted too much money — imagine, threatening us with sabotage of the pipeline if we didn’t cough up the dough.
CR: Well, we can kill two birds with one stone, if we take on the Taliban for harboring bin Laden. Get them, put him in a box. But that’s still a halfway measure, as I see it. It doesn?’t address the problem of how to rule effectively, with the Democrat majority in the Senate.
P: As I’ve always said, things sure would be a lot easier if I were a dictator. (laughter)
KH: Very funny, Mr. President. But maybe you’re on to something here. If we were to go all the way, whole hog on the barbecue — by which I mean a full-scale war on terrorists, wherever they are —
CR (interrupting): Bin Laden’s organization has sleeper agents in nearly 60 countries, we’re told.
KR: That’s it! We make this a PERMANENT war on terrorism, no clear-cut victory because no end in sight, get the country all riled up, frightened — and no doubt there will be more terror attacks on American soil, so we won?’t be making all this up out of nothing — and you’ll get your easier rule, Mr. President. The Democrats will back you all the way for fear of looking like the unpatriotic namby-pambys they are; we’ll play the war and patriotism and national-security cards for all they’re worth. And you’re in charge, totally, Mr. President, for two terms.
JA [presumably Attorney General John Ashcroft]: I think you guys have got the foreign part down pat. I’ve been sitting over here trying to figure out the domestic part, and I’ve got a few ideas.
KH: Go, John!
JA: Well, think back to when we on the Right could more or less run the show in this country: When we had communists as the common enemy. No matter what you think of Joe McCarthy, he put the fear of God into liberals and leftists. Nobody wanted to be considered even a little bit pink. We can do that with terrorism, too. Once bin Laden and his boys deliver whatever they’re going to deliver, it’ll be easy to bell our liberal cows, make them seem treasonous if they argue with what we’re doing.
KH: I’m already thinking of how we might phrase that one, John: “You’re either with our hunt for terrorists or you’re a supporter of the terrorists,” something like that.
P: I like that. Don’t you, Dick?
VP: I do indeed. But I think you can take that idea further. Make it universal. We retaliate against bin Laden’s organization all over the world, and you say to other countries: “If you’re not with our war on terrorism, you’re with the terrorists and you’ll have to suffer the consequences.”
CR: It’s brilliant! The world will have to give in to us, or risk being attacked by us. It’s better than Nixon’s madman strategy.
DR: Powell’s not going to go for it, you know. He’ll whine about our allies in Europe and how we have to consult them and so on.
VP: Well, we will consult, we will. AFTER we’ve begun to move on what we want to do, of course. (laughter)
KH: You realize what we’re talking about here, don’t you? It takes my breath away. As the only superpower in the world, we’re finally going to assert, openly and boldly, American authority all over the globe. It’s like us as the Roman Empire. With nobody to stop us. It’s power and profit and freedom all around. And a fully supportive, patriotic, martial-type society at home.
VP: Hail, Caesar! (laughter)
P: I like it. But I especially like what John was talking about: being able to act without having to fly through all that Democrat ak-ak in Congress. If we play our cards right, we should be able to get anything we want in the way of legislation, budget allocations, tax cuts, conservative judges, eventually repeal of Roe v. Wade, removal of all those old Clinton environmental regs that hogtied our business friends.
KR: And, best of all, with so much of our budget locked up for the war on terrorism, and with our tax cut tying up funds for the next ten years, we can drastically reduce all that Democrat social spending and not have to pay any political price for it. It’s the war, stupid, not us.
P: But I don’t want to be blindsided, by anything. No more Jeffords! I need to know if there’s anything out there that could blow up in our faces.
VP: This has GOT to be absolutely confidential. But my friends at Haliburton say that Kenny Boy’s company is leaking money badly. Might be a good time to examine your portfolios, if you get my drift.
KH: You mean there’s a danger Enron could go under? No way! The company is too big and successful.
KR: If this is true, we’re all in big trouble. We’ve got Enron money and Ken’s hands all over this administration; we even let him pick officials regulating the energy industry. Christ! We could get hurt on this one.
P: Let’s not go crazy here. It’s just boring old Repubican business practices. There’ll be a big thing made of it for awhile and then it’ll go away. It’s not serious; it’s not sex.
DR: And we can always ratchet up the war if an influence-peddling probe starts to get too hot for comfort, play a little wag-the-dog distraction game. Invade Iraq or something. Hussein is an even better villain than bin Laden anyway — mean-looking, you know what I mean?
P: Well, you stay on top of this one, Dick. And keep your records private, executive-privilege them if you have to. Worse comes to worst, it’ll wind up in the Supreme Court.
VP: Too bad we don’t have any influence there. (laughter)
The transcript ends at that point. Again, we can’t prove the genuineness of the document brought to us by “Shallow Throat.” But it kinda passes the smell test, don’t you think?
Bernard Weiner, a playwright and poet, was the San Francisco Chronicle’s theater critic for nearly two decades. A Ph.D., he has taught American politics and international relations at Western Washington University and San Diego State University, and has written for The Nation, Village Voice, The Progressive and other political journals.